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Friday, August 07, 2009


View From Above: Ricardo Arjona

Written by Washington Post Express contributor Alfredo Flores

DON'T CALL Ricardo Arjona a Latin lover-type singer. Although he has the looks and charisma to be marketed as such (and was, early in his career), Arjona prefers to play the role of storyteller in his pop ballads. I'm a chronologist; I talk about everything, not just about love," said Arjona in Spanish while in Miami preparing for his 18-city U.S. tour. "I talk about the undocumented [people]; I criticize Latin American society, but also sing about everyday life." Arjona's storytelling has made him one of the most sought-out Latin artists in his two decade-long career, regularly filling stadiums in Latin America and arenas in the United States. While big-arena concertgoers can expect bright lights, video backdrops and pyrotechnics, Arjona also employs a theatrical musical-like setup and actors who play the roles of characters in his songs. It's the ultimate in visual storytelling and a perfect reflection of the personal lyrics found in his 2008 album, "5to Piso." This tour offers a captivating vision of urban street life that Arjona witnessed from the fifth-story window of his Mexico City apartment. "The album is a biography of the past three years of my life," the Guatemalan singer said. "I was blessed to be given as much time as I felt necessary to complete the project. It's a wonderful experience and a chance to find that right sound, right words to capture the moment." The backdrop behind Arjona onstage is the dark, gloomy city, but one that's vibrant, full of life, brick buildings with blinking lights, people moving around in the windows and on rooftops. His nine-piece band even plays roles, portraying band members in a seedy bar, playing guitar, piano and percussion, while the keyboard player performs in a car. Arjona's lyrics in "5to" sometimes are of heartbreak, such as in "Como Duele (How It Hurts)" about couples who stay together after years of monotony. In "Que Nadie Vea (So That No One Sees)," he speaks about a boy hiding his sexual preference (a taboo subject in many parts of Latin America) in the sad ballad that features stirring violin, cello and clarinet. And in the ranchera duet with Paquita la del Barrio, "Ni Tú Ni Yo (Neither You Nor I)," Arjona sings about women who stand up to the men who mistreat them. » Patriot Center, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax; Sat., Aug. 8, 8 p.m., $59-$99; 703-993-3000.

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